China set for 'trial of century' as Bo Xilai denies corruption


China’s “trial of the century” is expected to start next week, when former Communist Party rising star Bo Xilai faces corruption charges in a case that will tell the world much about the government of China’s new leader, Xi Jinping.

Mr Bo, once a contender for the top leadership in the world’s second-largest economy, was ousted last year in China’s biggest political scandal in two decades following the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

The Ta Kung Pao newspaper said Mr Bo’s trial would start on Monday in the southern city of Guiyang and last three days.

It cited “well-informed Beijing sources”, but gave no details.

Mr Bo’s once-glittering career went into a tailspin after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to the US consulate in Chongqing in February last year and alleged that Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, had murdered Mr Heywood with poison.

Both Wang and Gu have since been imprisoned and Mr Bo was expelled from the Communist Party, accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Mr Bo’s fate is a highly public test of the government’s efforts to control corruption. He is the son of a legendary early leader of the Communist Party, Bo Yibo, and was once in the running for a powerful national party position.

He could be in for a severe punishment. The official Xinhua news agency ran a commentary yesterday saying that the Communist Party would “never allow its political discipline to be mere decoration, nor will it tolerate any ‘private clubs’ that go their own way”.

In the commentary, it said some cadres, such as Mr Bo and his deputy Wang, say “whatever they like to say and do whatever they want to do”.

‘Iron fist’

“Iron disciplines must be implemented with an iron fist. There is no room for members who think they are ‘special’ enough to defy Communist Party discipline,” it said.

“Communist Party organisations and disciplinary arms at all levels must refrain from taking a laissez-faire attitude toward irresponsible members, especially those in leading positions. Violators of discipline must be punished according to regulations and laws.”

Mr Bo faces serious criminal charges of corruption and abuse of power that extend to the early days of his career.

He is accused of “grave violations of party discipline”, which stretch all the way back to his days as a cadre in Dalian and Liaoning provinces, as minister of commerce, and in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where he was party chief.

He is also accused of “improper sexual relationships with a number of women”.

A direct link is being made between Mr Bo and other elements of the scandal.

Li Jingtian, executive vice-president of China’s Central Party School and a former member of the party’s powerful central committee, said the judgment could be severe.

The trial will be an early test of the new leadership of Xi Jinping, who will take over as president from Hu Jintao at the national people’s congress in March, after the brutally tense once-in-a-decade leadership transition. The party is working to tie up loose ends ahead of the March parliamentary meeting.